The Gilded Royale

O

I surprise myself sometimes. I suspect all of us do. Those decks that you thought you really didn’t like, that you would never – in a million years – like, can suddenly catch you out. It can happen at any time. You are struck down and repentent. It happened to me with the revamped edition of the Gilded (no, not Guilded) Tarot, that mainstay of favourite decks, the one that comes up first when you cast the net open wide on amazon, throw out your arms and search simply for “tarot.” It is – I imagine – the modern deck that outsells the rest and nobody should begrudge it that, but I have a peculiar relationship with the original Gilded Tarot. It was one of those decks I could never really warm to. I couldn’t understand how seasoned readers found it so welcoming, so readable. The real, photo-collaged faces didn’t express any light or life for me, the jewel-like colours were never quite jewel-ish enough for me. I felt short-changed on the opulence which – via the name and the trompelœil gemstones – it promised to deliver. I only really started sitting up and taking note of Ciro’s work when I took a gamble and paid a fairly high price (though prices have since become higher) on the Special (glossy) Edition of the Tarot of Dreams. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and was impressed. I made a mental note to henceforth watch the development of Ciro’s artwork more closely, though the Llewellyn edition of the Legacy of the Divine Tarot passed me by. The Oracle of Dreams subsequently made me sit up and take note again, and then – almost immediately (or was it simultaneously?) –  there was news of him reworking the Gilded. My tarot tastes intrigue me; I have a morbid urge to deconstruct and dissect and find out why certain decks don’t appeal, so the Gilded Royale was always going to be on my list of decks I really needed to see up close. It’s not enough just to say, as many do, “I don’t like the artwork”. I was a little envious, I confess, when I saw those photos from the Readers’ Studio in New York with the very first copies of the Gilded Royale in various hot hands and vowed to get myself one as soon as possible. I was delighted when, soon after, I was able to buy one off someone who had bought one of the first 200 copies that came with a printed reading cloth. I have enough spread cloths in my life but the collector in me jumped at the chance of getting one of the first 200 (plus I didn’t have a Ciro Marchetti reading cloth so that would be a first.)

O

When it arrived I was gobsmacked. As a product it was unsurpassably top-notch; sturdy box, excellent cardstock, sharp images, richly coloured (now we’re talking jewelled), gilded edges, a deck to last a lifetime. Moreover, as a tarot deck for reading it was equally superb. Everything about it was flawless. A few months on and I really should be using the present tense as it continues to be all of these things and more, one of my most vivid reading decks. There is something about the luminously unreal colours. I don’t think I have ever seen colours this vibrant on anything. Not tarot decks, not illustrations, not fabric. In fact, not on anything at all. I look at the Knight of Pentacles or the Page of Swords and think “this is how colours of the court must have looked to medieval peasants who lived in browns and greys and then suddenly came face to face with the sumptuous gowns of the Doges of Venice or a royal wedding in Mantua or Toledo.” The colours really knock you out. I like the artificiality of them and the impossibly dazzling light flowing in at the windows, flashing on the horizon. In readings, the colours reach a level of near abstraction which is hard to describe and which really seems to work for me.

O

Is this what others have felt about the traditional Gilded all these years? Funnily enough, in this deck, it is the more negative cards which are the most beautiful – the Three of Swords, Death (with its fluttering banners), the Nine of Swords. In the case of the Three of Swords, even though we have seen that pierced heart so many times, this version brings a symmetry, harmony and beauty that – really – no other versions have. That heart could be marzipan, that’s how much I love it. The deck in its entirety feels streamlined and the themes that I always felt I should love “in theory” in Ciro’s decks come alive here and make more sense, most notably the brass and mechanical contraptions, the luxuriant foliage, the skies, the courtly regalia, the mischievous wildlife. This really is one of the most captivating reading decks around and one of my favourite releases this year. Or rather, the deck that most surprised me. I love how it has made me look anew and see that an unloved (admittedly rather wooden for me) deck really can be honed to perfection and injected with new life and passion and suddenly feel miraculously readable. I’m so glad that he revisited this deck and gave it the treatment it deserved now that his technique and tools have advanced so much in the intervening (eight?) years.  True, much of its success is due to the extremely high quality of production, the stiff, gilt-edged card with just the right amount of gloss (ie, not much), so I’m doubly glad that production was in the hands of the artist and not a mainstream publisher. I cannot imagine a mass market edition using this cardstock and maintaining the intensity of these colours. Let this be a lesson all round. I’m so glad that – at last – I can see the magic.

O

About Le Fanu

Tarot collector in a far off land; loves ghost stories, magick, tarot, wistfulness, spookiness, Victorian spiritism, ectoplasm...
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6 Responses to The Gilded Royale

  1. Carla says:

    Why isn’t it enough to say ‘I don’t like the art work’? It’s enough for me.

    • dLe Fanu says:

      I just feel that there’s more to it than that. Plus I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a deck purely for the artwork. Other, hidden connotations, other agendas come into play. Plus I have found decks whose artwork I didn’t like/not my style/ etc that worked so well for me and which surprised me. The subject of taste/like/don’t like intrigues me and I find myself constantly questioning it.

    • Chiriku says:

      ^ It’s a fair question. I, too, question my (and our) likes and dislikes and I,too, feel there’s often something more at play than “I just don’t like the artwork” or “I’m just not attracted to Asians” or “I just think short hair looks better on men.” Most people are very unwilling to examine their own tastes and ‘preferences’ and there are reasons behind that, as well. Not I, though; in fact, I might take it too far in the other direction. Perhaps for different reasons than Le Fanu, I am always willing to allow myself to be persuaded on the merits of a product or program. Maybe t’s because I admire the ability to take great pleasure in something, and because I like the idea that I might be able to learn to find beauty where I once saw nothing special–to train myself to think of weeds as flowers. Imagine the infinite possibilities if I could do that on demand, if we could all do that.

  2. Chiriku says:

    As to the Gilded–the original mass-market is the only deck in my entire tarot life that I’ve ever sold or traded away. This may seem a dramatic statement for a deck that’s not egregious (a la the Tarot of Heroes). But I had a knee-jerk, no-tolerance attitude toward obviously digital art and found the images unbearably clunky, flat and graceless. And for what did we need another RWS-wannabe, only dressed up in the invariably ’90s-esque look of unappealing digital art? It was the only deck I’d ever owned about which I knew, no questions asked, that I’d never use it–and by use, I include merely looking through it once in a while.

    I continue to be amazed by the people one sees on forums who say they have been using and collecting tarot for X-odd number of years and “the Gilded is my favorite, my go-to deck.” I associate it with newbie-ness–probably owing to a combination of the fact that, after the RWS, it is the most easily-and widely-available deck on U.S. store shelves and my underlying guess that people who “came of age” in tarot during the digital age (i.e. recently) probably don’t have the mental blocks to digital art in tarot with which many of us with longer tarot life spans seem to struggle.

    The reviews of you and a few choice others of the Gilded Royale in the forum thread a few months back was enough to really set me back on my heels and take stock of why I didn’t like the original, and Marchetti’s decks in general. But after my disastrous reaction to the original Gilded, it seemed folly indeed to risk a nice chunk of change on that deck’s spawn.

    The story has not ended, however. Recently, I decided to dive back into fraught waters by purchasing an inexpensive mass-market version of the same artist’s Legacy of the Divine tarot. I had already known, of course, that the much younger LotD had technically improved and more adept artwork to the original Gilded’s. But I had maintained that mental block– “digital art in tarot is just not for me; I never like it.” Well, the deck has turned out to be pretty okay, mostly because I realized that digital art can in some respects actually have an advantage over traditional-media art: in its very coldness and over-smooth perfection, it has a potential for a cinematic scope and scale that escapes the more intimate tableaux created by traditional media. For instance, those Knights in LotD, the ones that are figure-less helmets of war floating above the treetops and rearing horses and the elemental emblems of their suits (blazing fire, etc). That’s the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters, of Braveheart and First Knight and other imagery that can dominate the large expanses of the silver screen.

    All of which is to say…I have learned some things about myself in the process of teaching myself to see the good in something I once discounted based purely on my instinctive “I just don’t like this” reactions. I believe that there are many notable times in life when we need *not* feel bound to our instincts; they are important, but there are also other faculties we can draw upon to enrich our lives, wouldn’t you say?

    A stirring and imagination-piqueing review, as always, Le Fanu.

  3. winter says:

    I really disliked the original Gilded, particularly because of those “Jelly Bean” type buttons that we used to learn to make in Photoshop when I first started building websites! When I saw the new images though and the difference side by side (posted on Ciro’s site), I was soooo very tempted, and now I have read this post, I am even more so!

    I got the Legacy of the Divine in a trade, I cannot see me using it, same goes for Tarot of Dreams…. I am not even tempted!!! To me a deck comes alive in your hands when you actually read with it, and I cant be doing that if I am fighting against using it, as that give the deck an unfair advantage.

    We all come unstuck though at times, which is a very good thing….. in my case I fell *big time* over Dugan and Evans’ Witches, which I was soooo in hate with at first!

  4. knixie.net says:

    I love it! Adding to my wish list haha. Thanks for the informative review!

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